Fly to: Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia
Internal Transfer: Ulaan Bataar - Olgii (3hrs 30mins)
Ex-Soviet 4x4 Jeeps 9hrs driving without roads across the steppe to Potaniin Glacier, Altai Mountains
Visa required: Yes if British
Time Zone:+8hrs GMT
Day 2, 21/07/09: Mongolia - Altai Mountains
Today we headed out to the outskirts of U.B for a day (acclimatisation) hike on Mount Tsetseguun (2,256m), one of the 4 Holy Peaks in this region. Beautiful scenery; in places it was very similar to England's Lakeland, however the pine forest gave it a more alpine feel.
Here we met our Mongolian Mountain Guide Usukhbayar (Uskoo); he is the only Mongolian to have climbed Everest (twice); Denali & Mt Vinson, as well as Khuiten a modest 16 times - my initial impression is that I think he may have swallowed a wasp enroute!
As we walked we were graced by the odd cameo of marmot, ground squirrel, wild horses and the occasional swooping Eagle. The route was adorned with blue prayer flags, apparently these are primarily Shamanist flags their shrines positioned in places where the earth's natural energy is felt.
The views back down the valley were breathtaking but it was the sky that caught my eye; not only was it a magnificent shade of blue but it was so very big. As I looked out the panoramic view was massive but this paled in significance compared to the vastness of the sky that lay atop it. As we walked through the pine forests the smell was divine, the subtle essence of juniper infused the air whilst horses flitted with wild butterflies in amongst the pine. Eventually we reached the top and once again we were struck by the shear expanse of this beautiful country; the summit was adorned by a mass of Shamanist blue flags which gently fluttered in the cool breeze.
Baysaa had previously commented that she, 'doesn't walk, Mongolians don't walk anywhere, that's what horses are for...' However today she had decided to accompany us on this day trek; it was some time after that she finally made it to the summit. The poor girl looked exhausted; like she'd been dragged up the mountain by her feet and had experienced moral hell en route but within seconds of reaching the top, she perked up, got out her camera phone and phoned every person she could think of. Ha it was beautiful to see how empowering she'd found it, though she did comment that was most definitely going to be the 1st and last time.
Just as we'd finished descending the sky turned ferocious; black clouds skimmed with great speed across the once blue sky - it was incredible, it looked like speeded up footage of cloud formations, the only difference being it really was happening that quickly and we were stood out under it. Just as we reached the mini-bus the skies opened up, the rain lashed down with a vengeance and the forked lightening strikes were divine...that was until they started getting a little too close for comfort.
As we entered U.B there was an incredible hail storm; the hail stones were easily the size of golf balls which built up rapidly on the roadsides. No sooner had the hail started as it was over and once again torrential rain lashed the capital; it wasn't too long before the water was up to car-light level.